I’m not entirely sure why it’s taken me so long to write a piece on The Assassination of Gianni Versace. I adore the show, Darren Criss as serial killer Andrew Cunanan delivers a performance that grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Much like the real life Cunanan (yes I’ve watched documentaries on the real life story since) Criss is mesmerizing in the role as the fascinating serial killer who believes he’s above most who he meets and that he is destined for better things. I struggled with the first series of American Crime Story. I could see Cuba Gooding Jr was doing a stellar job as Simpson but elements of the story were over sensationalised and spoilt the show as a whole for me.
I knew very little about the murder of Gianni Versace. I remember it happening (I was 14 at the time) but it didn’t matter at all as Criss as Cunanan is the draw. It may have Versace’s name in the title, and Edgar Ramírez does a great job as the ill-fated fashion designer but this isn’t really his story. Where OJ was at the centre of the story in season 1, this is more the story of what turns someone into a killer.
British writer Tom Rob Smith tells Cunanan’s story backwards. It’s a device that has bothered me in other shows but here it only serves to make his story more compelling as we are drip fed details of his life and how he ended up at the gates of Versace’s palatial home that morning.
The penultimate episode, which aired on BBC Two last night doesn’t feature Versace or Criss for that matter. It tells the story of Cunanan’s childhood and how he was doted on by his father Modesto. When we meet Modesto (Jon Jon Briones) we start to understand more of why Cunanan became the man he did. The immigrant from the Philippines had the same aspirations of grandeur that his son would go on to emulate. A bully to wife, and seemingly disinterested in his elder children, Modesto through all his energies into turning to Andrew into the family’s success story. Andrew’s gift for ingratiating himself with the rich and powerful was a skill he learnt from his persistent father. In an earlier episode which saw Andrew gloating about his father’s achievements in the hopes of impressing his one true love David Madson, I, like David had brushed it off as another of Andrew’s fantasies but in this brilliant episode, you discover that Modesto did, in fact, become a successful stockbroker. When his inexperience catches up with him Modesto flees the family home in the car he’d bought for Andrew years before. Unable to grasp the fact that he father had been living a lie Andrew tracks his father down to hideout in sweaty and rundown part of the Philippines.
Seeing what his beloved father has been reduced to is depressing to Andrew. Modesto welcomes his favourite son with open arms but maintains his facade. In in this moment, Andrew sees his idol for the man he really is: a master at charm but ultimately a scheming failure. The episode’s title Master/Destroyer points to this key moment being the catalyst for all the evil Cunanan would inflict on all those who disrespected or let him down in the future.
The one major trait that Modesto past on to his son was the ability to sell himself. The scene where Modesto convinces a prestigious stockbroker firm to hire him despite his lack of experience is quite something. One of the reasons I find Cunanan such a compelling character is his ability to make those around him believe every word he says. He surrounds himself with the wealthy and successful and feeds off them to get what he wants. It’s not really even clear what his main objective is but it’s clear Andrew Cunanan wanted to be someone the world noticed, and in his final murder he became just that.
It’s such a fascinating story, made even more compelling when you remember it’s based on actual events. In a weird way, I found myself emphasizing with this monster of a human. He’s manipulative, self-obsessed and ruthless but I found him such an intriguing character and I just wanted to learn more and more about him. Tom Rob Smith’s scripts are faultless and the direction superb. This is certainly the US drama of the year, I’m only sorry I haven’t written about it before now.
The final episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story airs Wednesday 9.00pm on BBC Two.